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Raytheon Plane Found Unreliable by Pentagon

Bloomberg News

A new Raytheon Co. plane for training Air Force and Navy student pilots is unreliable and potentially unsafe, according to the Pentagon’s top tester. The finding complicates Air Force plans to approve the plane next week for full production, a decision worth as much as $3 billion to Raytheon.

The aircraft has “numerous limitations and deficiencies,” wrote the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation, Thomas P. Christie, in a 50-page report sent to Congress this week.

Safety “remains a major concern,” he wrote. “Problems uncovered in testing,” including issues such as the engine, the oxygen system and the nose wheel, must be “rectified prior to the planned production decision.”

The Air Force has delayed its decision to approve the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System, or Jpats, for full production four times since January 2000. Earlier problems--including engine malfunctions, oil cooler ruptures and flaws in the plane’s air conditioning system--were fixed, the service said.

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The Air Force declined repeated requests for comment on the test report. Darleen Druyun, the service principal deputy for acquisition, is scheduled to approve full production next week.

The service was confident enough to begin flight training last month with early production models.

Civilian testers traditionally make harder judgments on major weapons programs, especially when a major production decision is involved.

Maj. Gen. William Peck, head of the Air Force testing agency, who has flown the plane, said last month it was safe but improvements were needed.

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“Overall, I’m very pleased with what we are getting,” Peck said. “With any new aircraft there are early problems, but I think it’s ready for full-rate production.”

A spokesman for Wichita, Kan.-based Raytheon Aircraft Co. agreed and said he couldn’t comment on Christie’s report.

“We are confident of the operational suitability and capability of the T-6 trainer system,” said Tim Travis. “We are confident that the T-6 will be approved for full-rate production.”

Raytheon shares fell 7 cents to $31.95 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

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